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DOWNEY - Nearly two dozen Bell residents assembled in front of the campaign headquarters of local educator Cristina Garcia on Tuesday night protesting the 58th Assembly district candidate who they claim lied to voters regarding her record and qualifications.
With signs, posters, and banners in hand, the organized group gathered near the intersection of Paramount Boulevard and 3rd Street in Downey greeting each passing car with a simple warning: do not vote for Cristina Garcia.
"We feel an obligation to help residents in the 58th Assembly make an informed decision on Nov. 6," said Nora Saenz, who organized the protest. "She lied to the residents in Bell, now she's lying that she's going to reform government."
A self-described "true reformer," Garcia was instrumental in the efforts to recall the embattled Bell city council members and elect reform candidates to the council. She organized with a community group called BASTA, the Bell Association to Stop the Abuse, which called for the resignation of corrupt city administrators and continues to fight for access to decision-making for residents.
Saenz, however, maintains that BASTA is a special interest group funded by the Bell Police Officers' Association, which endorsed current Bell Mayor Ali Saleh and now supports Garcia for state Assembly.
"We welcomed her into our city and she wasn't there," vented Saenz. "She passed herself off as a reformer, but if she already lied here, what will she do in Sacramento."
While Garcia declined to comment on the matter, Saleh came to Garcia's defense this week.
"Let me be clear. Cristina Garcia and the Bell Police Officers' Association were an indispensable part of the Bell reform movement. Both Ms. Garcia and the Bell POA continue to play an important role in helping to restore Bell to fiscal and emotional health," Saleh said in released statement. "Irresponsible accusations and protests against Ms. Garcia and the Bell POA are unfounded, unfortunate and driven by petty politics."
However, this isn't the first altercation between Garcia and Bell residents.
In 2010, Bell residents confronted BASTA and Garcia regarding claims that she had a doctorate degree from the University of Southern California. Records obtained through the National Clearinghouse later proved otherwise.
After months of suspicion, Garcia acknowledged in a press statement last week that she did campaign as a USC graduate even though she has yet to officially earn her doctorate.
"While I have finished all of my course work, I technically am only a PhD candidate," she said. "I have yet to finish the final process of my PhD, which is defending my dissertation...I take full responsibility for using the term PhD instead of PhD candidate in my campaign literature. For that I humbly apologize and ask for the forgiveness and understanding of all the voters of the 58th Assembly District."
Bell resident Ismael Morales doesn't believe Garcia deserves another chance from the community. Megaphone in hand, the passionate 25-year-old rallied protestors on Tuesday night chanting "liar, liar, pants on fire."
"Cristina Garcia might be a good person, but we know she's lied about her doctorate, she lied to the community," said Morales. "She's running on a platform as a reformer, but apparently that's not the case - she has hidden interests."
Even though Morales doesn't live in the 58th Assembly district, he said he came to the protest as a concerned citizen.
"This is a community effort...there are Democrats here, Republicans here. We're all independent residents," he said. "We're coming out today because this is not right. The voters have got to be prepared so they can make an informed decision."
Garcia, a college professor from Bell Gardens, is hopeful the 58th Assembly district, which is overwhelmingly Democratic, will give her an advantage next month against her Republican opponent Patricia Kotze-Ramos.
The newly-drawn district includes the cities of Artesia, Bell Gardens, Bellflower, Cerritos, Commerce, Downey, Montebello, Pico Rivera and portions of Norwalk.
Saenz believes it was an honest mistake trusting Garcia in Bell and with government corruption steadily encompassing neighboring cities, she felt a responsibility to warn voters in this community.
"It's a problem everywhere," she said. "We want people cut from the same cloth as us not special interests and political payback. If you're looking for real reforms, be careful who you vote for."
Published: October 25, 2012 - Volume 11 - Issue 28